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Reasons for downgraded charge explained

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 27/06/2016
Attorney-General, Christopher Finlayson © Getty Attorney-General, Christopher Finlayson

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson has taken the unusual step of explaining why the Crown accepted the guilty pleas of Tania Shailer and David Haerewa to a lesser charge of manslaughter for the killing of three-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri.

Mr Finlayson says, based on the evidence that was available in this case, there was a "substantial risk" that neither Shailer nor Haerewa would have been convicted of murder or manslaughter if they had gone to trial.

"The Crown's decisions in this case, including the decision to accept the manslaughter pleas, were motivated by the need to secure convictions for this horrendous killing," he said.

"The guilty pleas and admitted facts enabled the Crown to argue for a sentence which reflected the nature of the crimes committed. Without the guilty pleas, the full details of the facts set out in the statement of facts may not have otherwise come to light."

Mr Finlayson said the decision to accept a plea of manslaughter in substitution of a murder charge is never taken lightly.

But to prove the charge of murder in this case, the Crown was required to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Moko's fatal injuries were inflicted with murderous intent.

"It was relevant to the likelihood of securing a murder conviction that the injuries Moko suffered were not inevitably fatal. With reasonably prompt medical treatment, he could have been saved," Mr Finlayson said.

"Let me be clear, this in no way reduces the seriousness of the abuse Moko suffered. It is, however, something the jury would have had to take into account when deciding if Shailer had murderous intent at the time she inflicted the fatal injuries. 

"If the jury was not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Shailer had murderous intent at the time she inflicted the fatal injuries, then neither she nor Haerewa could have been convicted of murder." 

Accepting guilty pleas for manslaughter meant both Shailer and Haerewa admitted responsibility for inflicting the injuries which killed Moko and their failure to obtain him lifesaving medical treatment.

It also meant they could be given a sentence which reflected the serious nature of their crimes. Mr Finlayson also noted that the guilty pleas avoided the need for young and vulnerable children to give evidence at trial.

In a statement, Law Society president Kathryn Beck backed the prosecution guidelines, reviewed in 2013, that are followed when making decisions in cases like these.

"While never easy decisions to make, the Law Society is satisfied that the process that must be followed by decision-makers is fair, robust, and in accordance with the interests of justice and the public," she said.

"In relation to today's sentencing, the charge of manslaughter still allowed the judge to impose a lengthy period of imprisonment - reflective of the serious nature of the offenders crimes - as manslaughter carries the same maximum penalty as a murder charge: life imprisonment."

Tania Shailer and David Haerewa © Newshub Tania Shailer and David Haerewa

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